Salt is an important mineral that all horses need year round and while many people consider salt blocks to be a good way to salt for their horse, there are actually better options.
Why Horses Need Salt
Sodium is the primary electrolyte found in blood as well as the fluid surrounding cells. It is necessary for the production and secretion of bodily fluids such as sweat, saliva, intestinal tract fluids, urine, and mucus. Additionally, sodium is also necessary for proper nerve, digestion, and muscle function.
If sodium levels are low, the blood won’t hold enough water. This causes the adrenal gland to release aldosterone, which tells the kidneys to hold on to sodium and excrete potassium in its place. As you might expect, this leads to an electrolyte imbalance within the body.
A lack of sodium in the diet can promote or exacerbate conditions such as anhidrosis, tying up, and a rapid heart rate. It can also diminish a horse’s thirst since the body doesn’t want to flush away any more sodium.
Feeding salt during cold weather is especially important since salt intake promotes drinking–which in turn keeps the digestive tract moving smoothly and helps to prevent impaction colic.
Salt blocks were actually designed for cattle, who have rougher tongues. And while it’s okay to have a block in your horse pasture, you should not rely on it solely to provide sodium and chloride needs for your horse. For one, it’s impossible to monitor daily consumption. Horses also have smoother tongues and may not be able to get their needed amount of salt from the block. Additionally, they may end up biting the block in an attempt to get more salt, which may lead to dental and/or jaw problems.
Horses need about 1-2 ounces of salt per day, and if they’re in work or sweating from hot weather, that amount may increase to 4-6 ounces. A horse that is salt deficient may lick or chew on objects around the barn or pasture or may even lick or eat dirt.
If you use a salt block at all, purchase the plain, white block instead of a red mineral block which has other minerals added as well. Your horse may not need the extra minerals provided by a red block and it may also decrease the amount of salt he consumes.
Loose Salt is Best
Providing loose salt is best for horses. However, when purchasing loose salt, make sure you are getting the kind that is intended for animal consumption (and not for de-icing). The Holistic Horse recommends feeding our Pure Unrefined Sea Salt free choice. However, if your horse doesn’t eat the salt free choice within the first few weeks, add a few tablespoons daily to his feed while still keeping salt out free choice in a hanging feeder bucket at all times. Once the horse starts eating it free choice, there is no need to continue adding to feed daily anymore.